Category Archives: community

Change (I’ve heard this tune before)

This is the initial entry in my pocket journal from this morning. Believe me, it was not for the purpose of having an interesting illustration for this post.

I retired last week. I’ve been working, full- or part-time, more or less constantly since I was about eleven — more than 60 years. So I took a week off to just fool around and rest. But now it’s time to look at the road ahead, the one I’ll be following for the next stage of my life. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m about as far from a workaholic as one can get and remain a productive member of the human race. Taking it easy — and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it — is a skill I mastered a long time ago, and that’s the real danger now.

It’s easy to adopt the refrain, “Hey, I don’t have to do that right now; it can wait, I’m retired!” as an anthem. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen people younger than me retire and seem to think it means stop giving, stop producing, stop thinking, stop whatever and become a human quitting instead of remaining a human being,  doing, evolving. They don’t seem to last long, and they often seem terribly unhappy. I don’t want the last decade or so of my life to be like that. I’ve worked too hard to get here.

So, it’s time to make some plans: not hard and fast plans, but a rough map of Where Do I Go From Here.

There is a theme that runs through most of the world’s belief systems, that our lives proceed (or ought to proceed) in roughly defined stages. The concept goes back to at least the 5th Century B.C.E., and likely much farther. These stages are, (and this is only my interpretation):

Childhood and education, where we learn the basic skills of life, play, building relationships and so forth, and of living in a world full of other peoples, groups and values. In other words, we build the foundations that will guide us and allow us to become healthy, productive members of society.

Then we reach a period of application, of exploration and self-discovery, where we move away from our nuclear family and familiar things and learn to function as individuals. This is a time of adventure, of applying our previously learned skills and learning new ones. We may work away from home, in the military, on a pipeline in Alaska, as a teacher of our native language in a foreign land. We are reaching out, developing our ability to function as individuals, and learning about ourselves and the world at large. We become adults.

As adults, we move into the realms of marriage, kids, family, steady work and responsibilities. We mature, become stronger and wiser. As time goes on, we become aware of its passage and become contemplative, considering the things we have accomplished, the things left to do before we move into our “senior years.”

As elders, we enter into a role of wisdom and benevolence. We become mentors, volunteers, and sources of wisdom. As time passes, we consider more actively our mortality, the legacies — skilled or less skillful — that we are leaving behind, and what we can do to prepare for whatever may come when we pass out of this world.

It’s this last role that I’m facing, along with the questions of how best to fulfill it. I’ve no doubt that the answers are out there if I look for them. However, I need to avoid the trap that so many seniors fall into: the idea that my responsibilities to myself and others are over. It ain’t over until the fat lady croaks.

In writing the above, I was struck by how the stages of life also describe, with slight modifications, the stages of recovery: sponsees, then sponsorship, then old-timers who gently guide but do not decide the directions that our fellowships take. In a sense, recovery is an opportunity to learn and get right some of the things that we realize we may have handled less skillfully in our lives.

Where do you fall into the recovery continuum, using the criteria above as a general guide? I’m going to think about that too.

Going It Alone (edited reprint)

Lonesome Road©DigitalZen 2008

Lonesome Road
© DigitalZen 2008

My wife and I picked up medallions at a meeting last week. It’s been 29 years since we got out of treatment. My anniversary was the 14th, and hers was the 29th.

I couldn’t help thinking about the incredible importance of the support we got from other people in the program over the years. There is no question in my mind but that I would have relapsed without it, because my arrogance had me convinced that I could handle recovery on my own.

My addictions taught me to go it alone. Although family, friends and others who care about us sometimes do try to support us when we are active in our addictions, that is not the only kind of support we need. Furthermore, we often draw away from them in various ways that eventually cause them to do the same. Since non-addicts rarely have any conception of where we’re coming from, many of them accept our self-imposed isolation even though they may find the rejection extremely painful.

Thus we become islands surrounded by our addictions, and because our pathology prevents us from letting others into our lives enough to be supportive, we have to try — with greater or lesser success — to deal with issues then that we couldn’t even handle when we were straight. That rarely goes well. Nonetheless, even though I felt abandoned I resisted efforts at real support from any source.  If people knew what was really going on in my life, I might have had to do something about it.

The result, when I got into recovery, was a Catch 22 sort of situation: I desperately needed support and guidance but didn’t know how to accept it and act accordingly. Because I’m a bright guy and a good mimic it wasn’t long before I was talking a good game, but I wasn’t reaching out or being completely honest. That stalled the beginnings of real recovery considerably.

It’s hard for us addicts to believe that others sincerely care about us. We have already proven that we can’t be successful on our own. That’s what brought us to the rooms of recovery, yet opening up to others and admitting to ourselves that we do need help is the first big stumbling block to getting clean and sober. (There’s a step for that.) It’s hard for us to realize the power of the group, and of a program based on hope, self-knowledge and the compassion and understanding of other folks who know where we’re coming from. We expect to be judged, and instead they offer us hugs – how weird is that?

At least that’s how it was for me. I talked the talk because I wanted to fit in, but it took me a long time and a lot of slaps upside the head from life before I became willing to open my mind, open up to others, get honest with myself, and start walking the walk. When I did that, I began to be able to look at and resolve many of the issues that kept me from true sobriety.

So I’ve got a lot of good feelings about the folks with whom I’ve traveled and am still traveling this road. They helped me get just enough through my thick head to realize that recovery does work. This is where I got my first taste of unconditional love that I recognized. (I’d had a lot from friends and family, but they didn’t really know how to express it, and I sure as hell didn’t know how to accept it!)

I’m not saying that those people kept me sober, because I didn’t start getting really sober until I became willing to look at the real causes of my addiction: issues that date back to my childhood, but they did convince me through example that recovery was posslble and that someone cared. That kept me coming back.

And coming back, over and over, saved my life.

No Burning Bushes

Many of us speak about our “relationships” with our Higher Power, whatever that may be, but how many of us spend our time asking for things instead of for the power to do things, as in the Third Step Prayer. (Look it up: page 63 in the AA Big Book.)

How many of us spend our time telling H.P. what we want, asking for advice, but then never shut up long enough to hear any answers? What kind of relationship is that? That doesn’t even work with humans! Continue reading

Outside Issues (Tradition 10)

I get really tired of hearing the “book beaters” play the outside issues card every time someone in a meeting shares something that makes them uncomfortable. I’ve been reading AA-approved literature for nearly three decades, and I’ve not yet found anything that prohibits talking about drug, sex, shopping, gambling or hoagie addictions in an AA meeting.

Bill Wilson was a smoker and experimented with psychedelics. (His nicotine addiction killed him 36 years after the founding of AA, and we won’t even get into his extra-marital issues.) Dr. Bob was an admitted drug addict in addition to his alcoholism. Bill made it clear in a number of his writings that no one was to be excluded from A.A. meetings.

The long form of Tradition Ten reads as follows:

10 — No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues–particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever. [Emphasis mine.]

I have to wonder why there are still people, old-timers included, who don’t get that “outside issues” means things such as the above, not matters that bear directly on sobriety. Are we here to make smokers, overeaters, benzo users and others comfortable — to pick and choose our recovery — or to make newcomers welcome and support everyone’s recovery?

I’m inclined to think that some of these issues make some members really nervous, and that’s the reason for their objection to discussion of other addictions. As we all (should) know, substitute addictions are one of the most common by-products of abstinence from any “primary” addiction.

Bleeding deacons, show me some literature that contradicts what I’ve written here. Let’s get a discussion going in the comments.